Gaffe-prone minister Imamura bows out over Tohoku remark

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Masahiro Imamura, minister in charge of reconstruction of the disaster-hit Tohoku region, resigned Wednesday in the wake of controversial comments about the disaster.

Imamura submitted a letter of resignation to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Wednesday morning.

Masayoshi Yoshino, a former senior vice environment minister and native of disaster-hit Fukushima Prefecture, will replace Imamura.

During a party held Tuesday in Tokyo, Imamura said “it was rather good” that the 2011 tsunami-quake disaster hit the Tohoku region and “not somewhere near the Tokyo area,” because it would have caused an “enormous amount of (financial) damage” to the country. Public broadcaster NHK aired a video clip of the remark.

Imamura withdrew his remark and apologized when he faced reporters later in the day.

“Even in Tohoku, that terrible damage of ¥25 trillion was incurred. If it hits places near the Tokyo area, it would have been an unimaginable disaster. That’s what I meant to say,” Imamura said when asked by reporters about the comments.

His remarks were widely reported across the country, including in the Tohoku region, immediately drawing criticism from users on social media.

“You mean you don’t care if people in Tohoku are killed? Oh, no. Reconstruction Minister Imamura should resign,” wrote twitter user @Mori_totiotoko, echoing similar comments from many other users.

“Withdrawing his remark won’t settle this problem. Take responsibility for what you said. Never come to Tohoku again!” wrote Twitter user @ym5612.

Earlier this month, Imamura, a graduate of the faculty of law at the University of Tokyo, apologized for raising his voice to a freelance journalist at a news conference. The journalist had demanded answers about the government’s support for Fukushima evacuees. He was also criticized for arguing that “voluntary evacuees” from areas around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant should bear “self-responsibility for their own decisions.”

Voluntary evacuees are those who evacuated from areas around the plant that were not legally designated as mandatory evacuation zones.

Many of those evacuees have no intention to or are unable to return to their homes in the prefecture because of concerns over radiation, financial difficulties or other reasons.